by Gill Pringle

However, due to it being made during the pandemic, the actual process of making this delightful film transported its voice cast little further than their own homes.

Luca features the voices of Jacob Tremblay as Luca and Jack Dylan Grazer and Emma Berman as his friends Alberto and Guilia, with Maya Rudolph and Jim Gaffigan voicing Luca’s parents.

“When the pandemic hit and we all realised we had to work from home, one of my biggest concerns was how are we gonna record everybody,” says Luca producer Andrea Warren who dispatched iPads and microphones to everyone’s homes, having them test out different spaces for sound quality.

“I’ll never forget Jack in his mom’s closet and his arms were hitting the hangers and trying to press the right buttons at the right time. It’s tricky to be acting and be your own tech and then all of us trying to sort it out.”

“I was in my mom’s closet for about a year,” laughs the young actor whose previous film roles include It, It 2 and Shazam!

“It was definitely a stretch and a challenge for me – both as an actor and just as a human being.  It got hot in there. And I bet my neighbours were really freaked out about the amount of screaming that was going on from my house. I don’t know what they were thinking because I was screaming ‘Help!’ and all this crazy stuff. It was a long hot COVID summer.”

And while the script for Luca was not written by its director, Enrico Casarosa, certainly elements of the story could have been ripped right from the photo albums of his own youth, growing up in Genoa on the Italian Riviera.

“I was a shy kid, a little bit sheltered by my family, so when I met my best friend at 11, my world kind of opened up. He was a bit of a troublemaker; he didn’t have a whole lot of supervision,” says the Pixar director who moved to the US in his teens.

“I remember those special summers when you’re growing up and finding yourself, and I was kind of following him and getting dragged into trouble. This film really made me think about how friendships help us find a little bit about who we wanna be. And those days of summer on this wonderful rocky coastline, all mountains and sea, where towns are really hanging on for dear life on the cliffs… So, I kept thinking about the literal and also the metaphor of someone who pushes you off a cliff,” he says.

It probably should be noted at this point, that the character of Luca is actually a sea-monster, although just as human in his thoughts and fears as any human kid.

“When we meet him at the beginning of the movie, Luca is a timid kid and, although he really wants to be able to explore the human world, his parents won’t let him. But when he makes friends with Alberto, he helps him step out of his comfort zone,” explains Tremblay of his character.

“Like any boy, he wants to explore what’s off-limits, but his parents are very strict and they wanna protect him.”

As a mum-of-four in her own life, playing an anxious mother was not much of a stretch for comedy actress Maya Rudolph.

“Daniela is a very serious mom. She’s not messing around and that, to me, just equals love. That protection, that strong discipline is all about love and wanting to raise her family right,” she says.

“But then you come to learn that she also is really protecting him from what she already knows to be dangerous in the world… And, just like any parent, she’s a fierce protector. Some might say it’s tough love, but I think she gets all the passes because you know she loves her son.

“I mean, it’s the scariest thing in the world to let your babies run out in the world and explore. And even though you know they need to, it’s terrifying,” says Rudolph who admits to being a tough mum herself. “It might be one of the most terrifying aspects of having children, knowing that they have to go out into the world, and it’s less about your child than it is about what the dangers of the world are.”

Among this terrific voice cast, Sacha Baron Cohen lends his voice to Uncle Ugo, perhaps Luca’s strangest and most bizarre relative, emerging from the deepest part of the ocean to convince Luca of the dangers of the surface.

Like Luca, Ugo once wondered about the world beyond the surface. But following a near-death encounter, he has relocated to his deep-water home where it’s pitch dark, bitterly cold and far away from the scary humans above the sea – just the way he likes it.

“Ugo has been living in the deep for so many years that he’s completely lost all colour,” explains the director. “He’s become transparent, a sea monster angler fish of sorts. Luca’s parents are threatening to send him to live with Ugo to keep their only son from the dangers of the surface, so Uncle Ugo represents the worst thing that could ever happen to Luca. He is rather creepy, waxing lyrical about the unbelievable pressure, darkness and floating carcasses of the deep water.”

Cohen tried on so many different voices for Uncle Ugo, the animators found it hard to pick. “Sacha is an improviser. He wanted to try a bunch of approaches to see which one worked. His ability to change from one to the next was really wonderful. But it was hard to decide which way to go,” says editor Catherine Apple.

Regardless of whether you’ve visited the Italian riviera or not, Luca is evocative of all the wonders of a childhood summer when school is out, and a world of adventure awaits.

Discussing her own childhood memories, Rudolph says, “My birthday’s in the summer, so I remember summers being all about pool parties and learning how to fry an egg on the sidewalk, and those kinds of things. Those times when you come home with your bathing suit still on and saltwater still in your hair; ice cream and popsicles, nothing but good memories.

“I also have heavenly sweet memories of summer camp and making instant connections with new people and falling in love in the best and most lovely way.”

Disney and Pixar’s Luca premieres June 18 on Disney+


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